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“Scrubbing Jesus’s Toilets” by Lehua Parker

Near the end of a three-hour block, on the first day of teaching 15 four and five-year-olds in Primary, both the kids and I were maxed. It was a beautiful fall day, so I decided to take them outside and let them burn off energy in a grassy area behind the parking lot. As we put on our pretend mousy ears, feet, and tails—all the better to quietly sneak out of the church—one little girl said, “This is Jesus’s house, you know.”

“I know,” I said.

She nodded with authority. “And now we’re going to play in Jesus’s yard.”

That stuck in my head in the way only a child’s truth can. It’s no surprise that last Saturday morning, bent over a toilet with scrub brush and cleaning spray, I keep thinking I’m cleaning Jesus’s bathrooms.

It’s my daughter’s fault.

Every Saturday at 8 am, several families showing up at the church to clean and prepare it for Sunday services. We all take turns. Many hands make light work, so it usually takes only an hour and a half to make everything sparkle. This morning when we walk in at 8:02 am, the building supervisor smiles. “Welcome!” he says.

Great. A morning person. Ugh.

“You guys are the first, so you get to choose. Which jobs do you want to tackle?”

Without hesitation, my teen daughter says, “Mom and I will do the bathrooms.”

I have to bite my tongue.

I hate hate hate cleaning bathrooms. Seriously, we have our pick of the jobs. How about vacuuming? Polishing woodwork? Cleaning glass doors? Nope. She picks bathrooms—men’s, women’s, the nursing mothers’ lounge, the nursery’s toddler-sized bathroom, and the family bathroom. It’s going to take us forever. Hauling the cart of cleaning products down the hall, mop bucket sloshing, I ask her why.

She shrugs. “We know how to clean bathrooms.”

But somehow, she gets busy cleaning counters and mirrors while I get started with the toilet brush.

Sigh.

I work methodically and quickly. She’s right. We do know how to clean bathrooms. My kids tease me that I have three levels of clean—every day, company coming, and church clean, which they first learned about years ago when I sent them back to dust and re-dust the chapel’s floorboards four times in the same hour.

I don’t have to tell them the difference anymore.

Spray, spray, spray with the red label sprayer. Scrub, scrub, scrub. Swishy-swishy-swish. Wipe, wipe, wipe. Spray down the sides of the stalls, polish the chrome handrails, the locks, and the doors with the green label spray. Check the paper stock, empty the cans. Mop. Give it all the once over.

Is it clean enough?

Would I eat off the floor?

Would I die of embarrassment if Jesus walked in?

Let’s get real. There is no way it’s going to be perfect, not even with toothbrushes and steam cleaners. I search for obvious imperfections, streaks on mirrors, shoe prints on the tile.

I nod. I’ve done my best with the skills, time, and tools that I have. If Jesus’s houseguests need the facilities, it’ll be okay. Comfortable, clean, and welcoming.

As I give the door handle one last swipe, I think that scrubbing Jesus’s toilets is a lot like life. You do what must be done as best you can with a cheerful heart, understanding that by serving others you are serving God. Most often the tasks aren’t things you’d choose, but they are the very things Christ needs you to do for Him.

As we’re putting the cart away and rinsing out the mop bucket, a parent pops his head in to tell us his little kid probably messed up the men’s bathroom. There are a lot of things on the tip of my tongue, things like here’s the mop and cleaning supplies; your angel, not my problem; but I don’t say them. My daughter hauls the cart back out and says, “Okay, thanks for telling us.” We go back to a room we just cleaned and flush the toilet, pick paper towels off the floor, wipe down the counters, and mop tiny muddy footprints from the floor.

Again.

That’s like life, too.

A Q&A with Lehua Parker about this essay is available here

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